The Story Behind the Real Life Texans Who Inspired ‘Lonesome Dove’
Arguably, Lonesome Dove is the greatest western ever made. Doesn't really matter if you're talking about the book or the TV mini-series. What started out as a screenplay called 'Streets of Laredo' and was set to star John Wayne turned into a Pulitzer Prize winning novel and, as Robert Duvall called it "The Godfather of Western Movies". However, as fascinating as the story written by Larry McMurty is, the real life inspiration behind the story is even more fascinating.
Yes, if you didn't know, Lonesome Dove is loosely based on a true story and Woodrow Call & Augustus McCrae were based on real people. In fact, if you're a fan of book or movie series, the real life inspiration for Woodrow Call appears as a character in Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo and Comanche Moon - Charles Goodnight. McCrae, on the other hand, is loosely based on the real life of Oliver Loving.
Who Was Texas Ranger & Rancher Charles Goodnight?
The basis for Captain Woodrow F. Call is none other than Charles Goodnight. Goodnight is one of the most famous Texans in the history of the state. Not only was he well renown Texas Ranger (who joined the Rangers at the age of 21) but he also became the state's most famous ranchers. By the time he was 90, Goodnight owned the biggest ranch in Texas - well over a million acres.
When he was 30, he and his partner Oliver Loving (we'll get to him in a minute) created the Goodnight-Loving Trail. The story of the discovery of that trail from Texas to Colorado (and eventually Wyoming) became the basis for the story of Lonesome Dove. Many of Goodnight's other adventures on the plains and frontier also inspired other stories in the Lonesome Dove series.
In the book, Call carves a marker for Deets after he dies. That marker is based on the epitaph Goodnight created for Bose Ikard, an ex-slave who worked for Goodnight most of his life.
Who Was Oliver Loving?
As mentioned above, Oliver Loving was the loose inspiration for the one and only Augustus McCrae. While it's said that Oliver didn't have the same personality as Gus did in the books and movies, his tale certainly helped flesh out Gus' fictional life and death.
Loving, often called the "Dean of Trail Drivers", was friends, former Ranger partners and long-time business partners with Charles Goodnight. The two founded the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Much like the adventure told in the story, Goodnight & Loving suffered similar fates on the trail.
Much like in the book, Loving and a partner were cornered on the trail by Comanche braves. He was mortally wounded near the Pecos River. But, before dying, he was able to make his way to Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. He also made a pact with Goodnight, for Goodnight to haul his body back to Texas following his death. Which, much like Call, Goodnight followed his friend's instructions and brought the body back through dangerous lands to bury him in Texas.
Loving is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, just outside of Ft. Worth Texas.
Impact of Lonesome Dove on Texas
Lonesome Dove isn't just widely regarded as one of the most important westerns ever created, it also has become a piece of Texas history. Not only is the entire story loosely based on two iconic Texans - Goodnight & Loving - but the story itself became an important tourism drawl for the Lonestar State.
Texas State University in San Marcos, TX owns the 'Lonesome Dove' collection. Many people come from all around to view Gus' body (the mannequin Tommy Lee Jones carries back to Texas in the movie), Gus's hat, the blacksmith poker Call uses to beat an army scout and other items from the film. There's also a 'trail' where people can visit locations where the movie filmed.
After the success of the mini-series on TV, both Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall were made honorary Texas Rangers. Here's a fun fact for you: Lonesome Dove has sold more DVDs than any other western in the history of film.